Hell fighters, black devils, and one wick-ed ma-an: how martial imagery in black popular culture helped define manhood during the World War I era
This dissertation explores the popularization of modern black masculinity during the World War I era. Focusing on mass media representations of black soldiers before, during, and after the war, it reveals a near-total popular culture saturation of aggressive and courageous imagery that black men increasingly used as a guide to confront racism, justify armed self-defense, and force local and federal governments to address black grievances. These martial representations in film, inexpensive artwork, black "histories" of the war, editorial cartoons, popular novels and poems, and in commemorative events featuring black soldiers provided a well-defined guide outlining the modern, masculine black man. Too often historians of the period focus on the "Talented Tenth," young, energetic middle-class African Americans, and the complications they experienced as they struggled to maintain respectability and redefine their gender and social standing in a rapidly modernizing world. Prior to World War I, the primary model for manly protest was through quiet petitions to government officials and the grudgingly passive acceptance of a racist society that might eventually bestow equality based on thrift and hard work. The war provided African Americans with a more forceful, but now domesticated model that encouraged assertiveness, and at times violence to secure full citizenship and civil rights based on the heroic actions of the black soldier.